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Blakes 7 Series One - The sublime and the ridiculous
on 2 March 2004
Whether or not you like this cheap 1970's space opera pretty much depends on whether or not the characters and scripts appeal to you. If you are after high budget production values and dazzling special effects then go elsewhere.
If however, you're looking for something a bit different, a bit less straightforward than what you might expect from a telefantasy show then this might be for you. It is blessed with flawed, interesting characters struggling in a fictional future dominated by a repressive fascist regime. It also seems at times fairly near the knuckle since the heroes (whilst ostensibly fighting for "freedom") attack the evil galactic super power with the kind of approach favoured by the kind of people we might call terrorists.
Created by Terry Nation (best known for being the man behind the Daleks in DR WHO) this show is resolutely downbeat, refusing the path of easy solutions to the problems posed in this Orwellian scenario.
The titular "7" are a group of criminals who are brought together by Roj Blake - a political dissident leader who dreams of overthrowing the corrupt Federation. They find an abandoned alen space craft (the Liberator) and use it to wreak havoc and destruction on the Federation's power bases.
In a sense BLAKES 7 is an inversion of Gene Rodenberry's optimistic vision of the future in STAR TREK. Interestingly, the logo used by TREK's United Federation of Planets is almost identical to that used by the Federation in BLAKES 7 - except that the arrow here is pointing right, instead of up.
Unlike the cordial atmosphere of inter racial and inter species co-operation on board the U.S.S.Enterprise, the crew of the Liberator are often verbally (occasionally physically) at each other's throats. The vituperative put-down line is a stock in trade of this series. The lion's share of the tension between the 7 in series 1, is provided by the contrast between the idealistic rebel leader Blake, and the cynical computer expert Avon whose stated philosophy is: "wealth is the only reality, and the only way to obtain wealth is to take it away from somebody else".
The characters are memorable because they are not only skillfully written, but beautifully acted. All the regulars shine, and the well-judged performances often transcend the poor sets and somewhat risible effects that were the result of severe under-budgeting by the BBC, as well as shocking time restrictions when it came to production. It's no use pretending the effects work doesn't matter, because it does. Having said that, some of the model work is pretty good (if poorly lit) and on occasion impressive. But ultimately one doesn't tend to come away from the show singing praises to the visuals!
But there is an intelligence and wit about the writing which pays handsome dividends to the receptive viewer. There is also a certain atmosphere to proceedings, which is admirably enhanced by Dudley Simpson's incidental music and stirring theme tune.
The villains are great too - the seductive Servalan (played with camp relish by Jacqueline Pearce) is head of the Federation's security services, and aided in her quest to rid the galaxy of Blake by the vengeful Travis (Stephen Grief, clad in tight black leather whilst managing to maintain an icy stature).
I've been a fan of this series since the first episode was transmitted in 1978, so I was delighted that it was to be brought out on DVD. The picture quality is mostly excellent, only marred when poor lighting of a scene or grainy film prints are unavoidably visible.
The episodes of series 1 are a mixed bunch, but on the whole quite entertaining (the best was yet to come in the 2nd,3rd and 4th series). The opening segment THE WAY BACK is totally unrepresentative of what the series was to become; but is an interesting (if dated) look at a corrupt,repressive future society. Recommended are SPACEFALL, CYGNUS ALPHA, SEEK-LOCATE-DESTROY, DUEL, PROJECT AVALON and DELIVERANCE. I also have a fondness for MISSION TO DESTINY, (again unrepresentative of the direction the series would eventually take) as it's a rather nice little Christie-style murder mystery.
The extras are variable, including a lovely clip from a contemporary edition of BLUE PETER with Lesley Judd showing you how to make a Liberator teleport bracelet - sure to get the nostalgic juices flowing. Also some out-takes, a deleted scene or two, and 3 episodes with audio commentaries from cast members are available. The commentaries are a little disappointing, but producer David Maloney's intelligent contribution leads me to hope that when Series 2 is released we'll have more from him. Too much time on PROJECT AVALON's commentary, for example, is wasted with Stephen Grief arguing with Sally Knyvette and Jacqueline Pearce over whether a mutoid is played by Glynis Barber or not.
Some kind of documentary style featurette would have made all the difference here, and the lack of interviews with Gareth Thomas and Paul Darrow is sad.
Nevertheless, this is essential if you are a committed Blake-o-phile, and worth checking out if you like thoughtful space opera, as well as the kind of intelligent, inventive TV of this period, and can accept the paucity of the budgets. (The monsters in BLAKES 7 aren't a patch on their peers in '70s episodes of DR WHO!)